Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Literary Festivals And The Lesser-Spotted Irish Crime Writer

Hearty congratulations to all involved in ‘Bloody Scotland’, aka Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, the inaugural edition of which takes place in Stirling this coming September (artist’s impression, right), featuring the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter James, Allan Guthrie, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Tony Black, Karin Fossum, William McIlvanney and - oh yes! - the erstwhile Gregory, John Gordon Sinclair.
  It’s a very nice line-up indeed, and the best of luck to the Festival. Here’s hoping it’s the start of many a fine year’s skirling and, well, whatever it is the Scots do when there’s no one around to keep manners on them.
  A similar, Irish-themed event was run in Dublin a few years back, featuring the cream of Irish crime authors plus some interesting international guests, but it was pretty much a bust. It didn’t help that the event coincided with what turned out to be the only weekend of sunshine that summer, but even beforehand the advance sales had been sluggish. Is there an appetite among Irish readers to sit down and listen to writers talk about writing and books? Is it simply the case that Irish crime writers aren’t interesting enough to Irish readers to draw the crowds?
  There are two literary festivals taking place in Ireland in the next couple of weeks. The Listowel festival kicks off on May 31st, while the Dublin Writers Festival begins a week later, on June 4th. Unless you’re prepared to consider Aifric Campbell and Kevin Power crime writers - and I don’t think either author considers themselves a crime writer - then there isn’t so much as a whiff of cordite to be had at either festival.
  That’s a pity, because there’s some very interesting Irish crime writers publishing novels roundabout now: Conor Fitzgerald, Jane Casey, Tana French, Brian McGilloway, Niamh O’Connor, Conor Brady, Michael Clifford … But there’s more - or rather, less. Because the Dalkey Book Festival runs from June 15th to 17th, and crime writers are again conspicuous by their absence. Yes, the excellent Eoin McNamee will be in attendance, but running the eye over all the other contributors suggests that the organisers would be horrified to discover that McNamee is considered a crime writer in less than salubrious places; and Derek Landy is taking part, but I’d imagine that that’s on the strength of his success as a children’s author, as opposed to Skulduggery Pleasant being a wise-crackin’ undead private eye-type.
  And then there’s the West Cork Literary Festival, which runs July 8th to 14th and which is entirely devoid of Irish crime writers. It does, however, feature husband-and-wife team Nicci French, and another husband-and-wife team, Edward Marston and Judith Cutler. A pity there was no room for the Irish husband-and-wife writing team Kevin and Melissa Hill, but there you go, there’s no sense in being parochial about such things, is there?
  Meanwhile, and back to the Listowel Writers Festival, where there is a panel discussion on Thursday night, May 31st, titled (koff) ‘Towards a National Strategy on Literature’. To wit:
A panel discussion with The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, author Colm Tóibín, Sinéad MacAodha, The Irish Literature Exchange and Sean Lyons, Chairman of Writers’ Week. It is time that we develop a national literary and strategic policy in Ireland. We will take a step forward, evoke ideas, delve into where we are and where we are going … ask controversial but fundamental questions …
  ‘Delve into where we are and where we are going …’
  I could be very, very crude about where literary Ireland is right now, and cruder still about where it’s going. But that won’t solve anything.
  The knee-jerk reaction is to suggest that Irish crime writers should hold and host their own festival next year, along the lines of Bloody Scotland, or Harrogate or Crimefest in England, or the Bouchercon in the US; but Ireland is a small place, and there’s the very real danger of confirming the status quo, of reinforcing a ghetto mentality; like the standalone Crime Fiction category at the Irish Book Awards, it suggests that Irish crime writers need to be corralled off from real books, from proper fiction, and given a special award and a pat on the head.
  The irony is that it’s Irish crime writers who are ‘delving into where we are and where we are going’ as a nation, but it’s a real Catch 22 scenario right now for Irish crime writers: if you demand attention, you’re accused of special pleading; if you shrug and grit your teeth, you’re ignored.
  So what to do?
  Over to you, people. I’m all ears …


henryct said...

I can't recall the standalone festival from a few years back and I really should because I should be part of the prime demographic so maybe it didn't have the profile required.

It is always hard to get something new off the ground as I'm sure you're aware given the effort you've put into crimealwayspays. I would be concerned that given the relatively low numbers that attend readings or some of the other events that the numbers just wouldn't be there and would run the risk of Joe Public being outnumbered by the large number of authors (if all those that had published a work in the last couple of years were to attend).

Perhaps something conducted as part of the broader Dublin Writers Week would have the potential to draw in greater numbers in the short term and could build to a standalone event over time.

John @ The Mystery Bookshelf

Declan Burke said...

Ta for the feedback, John.

That Irish crime festival - 2008 / 2009 - was part of a much bigger books festival, which was sponsored and funded by the Sunday Independent.

You may well be right, though; that there isn't sufficient appetite to see and hear writers. Maybe, and understandably, people are much happier staying home to read.

Cheers, Dec

michael said...

In these "literary" festivals how many genres of fiction are represented? Do they ignore all genres but literature (adult and YA)?

Laurence O'Bryan said...


Great post. I had a few thoughts about this subject when I saw the line up at Listowel and Cork.

I have an idea that without the main Irish crime writers (and women's fiction), Irish writing would be an insular, declining self-absorbed limited-appeal back water.

For Listowel to suggest that literary Ireland should decide the direction of Irish literature sounds to me like a quick session to get the boys with the money talking and a quick clap before the pints come out.

My humble suggestion is a single annual meeting of Irish crime writers, all writers invited, not for readers. I suggest if even 20 got together that will be the genesis of a writers festival, for writers, like Listowel is. I myself will stay away from the Dublin literary thing, and Listowel and the rest because no Irish crime or mystery writers are represented. The Dublin thing is also focused on readers, and features writers I don't read.

As ever I will defer to your expertise as to what you think might work and when.

Declan Burke said...

Michael / Laurence -

Good to hear from you both. I didn't go through the festival line-ups with a fine-tooth comb, but genre fiction of all kinds is not overly represented.

As for a writers-only festival: my own take on that is that I think it would be pointless, akin to a book without a reader. I do appreciate, though, that other people might think otherwise. Any takers for Laurence's idea?

Cheers, Dec

Laurence O'Bryan said...

Nice pic! Great blues! Crime scene?

Ok, the phone is gonna ring and the guy watching TV is gonna listen, take a gun out of his waistband and hold it to his . . .

Gerard Brennan said...

I get what people are saying about the lack of readers here, though plenty of launches at No Alibis have brought out the crowds. Maybe we just need to start small with realistic goals.

Could we get things started by swarming Crime Fest in Bristol next year? See if they'd be up for allowing a few Irish crime panels. I know there's been a significant Irish presence in previous years but I don't know how focussed it was.

Laurence, while I think a writers only meeting would be great fun purely on a social level, I'm not sure what else it would accomplish. Maybe lesser known writers like me would be able to wrestle a cover quote from a big-hitter after buying a few rounds but further to that...? Perhaps I'm just being short-sighted, though. What do you see coming from it?

The City of Culture 2013 thing in Derry has potential and I believe a very hard-working local author has been plotting a crime fiction-themed night... could be potential there to launch something more long term.

But I feel like we need something to offer an audience; to draw them out of their reading chairs. Titan Con, Belfasts first SciFi and Fantasy convention had a decent amount of success last year off the back of The Game of Thrones. A major drawing point was the opportunity to meet cast and crew from the TV series.

Dec, ask Ken Bruen to give Jason Stathem a ring...


Gerard Brennan said...

BTW, I like the new look of the blog.


Darlynne said...

Disclaimer: I'm completely ignorant about book festivals and their politics.

It is astonishingly counter-productive for a literary festival to exclude any author or group who wants to participate. I'll go further and say it seems like a really solid step toward planned obsolescence if the people running the festivals can't see the benefit of including all willing and able genres.

Are these festivals invitation only? Would they refuse a request to participate if a group of Irish crime writers applied or whatever it is one does to get in the door, host a panel or two, sell books? Obviously as a fan of crime novels, I'm biased, but your attendance would draw me in if I were anywhere in the neighborhood.

They may not invite you, but does that mean you can't choose to go?

Stuart Neville said...

I'd say there's room for an Irish crime festival, north or south of the border, but probably not both. I'm tempted to say that events like Bouchercon are more writer than reader-focused, as the only people I seem to talk to there are other writers, but I've never seen it from the ordinary punter's side, so I may be wrong.

One danger with an Irish crime festival is that it could end up being a bit of a mutual back-slapping exercise (I had a different metaphor there, but remembered this is a family blog). The Irish crime-fic scene is already in danger of being somewhat incestuous, so I'd fear a dedicated festival might just make us even more insular - especially if it's a reaction against being excluded from other festivals. I don't think that having a dedicated crime strand within a larger festival necessarily makes us the poor relations.

bookwitch said...

You've redecorated?!
About time too.
Very nice.